High plains fires take lives, spark spirit

Convoys of trucks bringing hay to the areas affected by March wildfires have come from central Texas, southwest Oklahoma, central Kansas and from Nebraska, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio and now funds for fuel are being raised to bring 1000 round bales from western Pennsylvania to southwest Kansas… as farmers and ranchers across the country pull together in amazing ways to help their peers with forage for cattle after wildfires decimated grasslands and stored hay in the High Plains. Derrick Carlisle of Claysville, Pennsylvania reports that nearly 1000 round bales of hay have been donated from farms in Greene and Washington counties, and a trucking company has agreed to transport the hay to Ashland, Kansas “at fuel cost.” Now, funds are being raised quickly to buy fuel to transport the hay. Individuals and businesses wanting to help provide funds for fuel, should contact Washington County Cattlemen’s Association president Brian Hrutkay at 724-323-5815.

To help with the ongoing relief efforts for ranchers affected by the wildfires, visit http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx to see various contacts for ways to help listed by the states affected as well as coordinated efforts in other states like Kentucky and Minnesota that are planning deliveries.

 Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize a rebuilding effort through means of raising cash. Various auctions are already set and the idea can be replicated. For information about how to participate in this, contact Trent Loos at 515.418.8185 or check out his Rural Route radio
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“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion.”

Recap reprinted from Farmshine, March 17, 2017

ASHLAND, Kan. — High Plains ranchers are always on guard for the combination of March winds and wildfires. When the two conspire together, the result can rapidly turn devastating and deadly. That was the situation last week in southwest Kansas, the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle and eastern Colorado.

All told, the wildfires on March 6 consumed around 1.7 million acres of grassland, 33 homes, over 200 farm structures, an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 adult cows along with untold numbers of calves, horses and wildlife. In Texas and Oklahoma, over 5000 hogs perished in separate facilities.

Tragically, some of the affected ranching families in the Panhandle suffered the ultimate loss of loved ones. Seven people lost their lives, at least five while trying to herd cattle to safety before becoming trapped in the rapidly moving fire when the high winds changed direction.

The livestock losses are particularly heavy in southwest Kansas, where a local veterinarian estimates 3000 to 6000 beef cattle have perished; however, an accurate assessment is still weeks away. In the Panhandle, Texas A&M Agrilife extension reports preliminary loss estimates of 2500 adult cows, plus additional calves.

Two consecutive years of above average moisture provided the good grass growth that ended up fueling multiple fires in early March. The previous 60 days had turned it tinder-dry, together with the high winds of up to 60-70 mph, creating the perfect storm. The rapidly moving ‘Starbuck’ fire in northeast Oklahoma and southwest Kansas will go down as the largest and most devastating single fire in Kansas state history. In the Panhandle, the March 6 fire is being called the third worst in Texas history.

While there are some dairies in these areas, extension agents and veterinarians report that no dairy cattle were impacted. But dairy producers and calf ranch operators are among the ag community throughout the region, and beyond, responding to the immediate needs of the region’s ranchers.

Occurring at a vulnerable time, the fires have orphaned many newborn calves. In fact, one purebred Angus operation in Ashland, Kansas described the confluence of emotion – simultaneously dealing with the grisly task of locating and putting-down hundreds of adult cows while gathering to the corrals over 100 survivors for further monitoring and evaluation – 30 of them having their calves in the days immediately following the fire.

Many of the ranchers have lost much of their stored hay supply, and the region’s unburned grasslands are a good 60 days away from greenup — provided they get rain. Surviving cattle are being pulled onto wheat pasture and into corrals — making the immediate priority that of acquiring the hay necessary to feed a good 15,000 surviving livestock in southwest Kansas and over 10,000 in the Panhandle.

With fences to build and repair, feed to secure, cows still calving and long term plans and decisions to make, there’s no time to bottle and bucket feed calves two and three times a day, particularly those ranchers who have also lost their homes.

OrphanCalves01(K-State)County 4-H clubs put the word out early, that youth members would take-in bucket calves to help the ranchers who have so many other things to do in the recovery. (Follow them on Facebook at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas)

Veterinarians are reaching out to colleagues in the hard-hit areas. Dr. Randy Spare at Ashland Veterinary Center has been organizing some of the needs. He received a call late last week from Dr. Tera Barnhardt.

The 2014 K-State graduate operates a solo bovine practice for dairies and feedlots two hours north of Ashland. While doing preg checks at Deerfield Calf Feeders — where dairy replacement heifers are raised near Johnson, Kansas – Dr. Barnhardt and the general manager Cary Wimmer came up with the idea of offering temporary homes and care in the calf ranch hutches for orphaned calves from Ashland.

OrphanCalves02(Barnhardt)

Many ag companies have donated milk replacer, feed, pharmaceuticals and other animal care products — and along with hay donations from other ranches — have come personal items for the families who have lost their homes and belongings.

“Our hearts go out to the ranchers,” said Dr. Barnhardt. “I’m just glad we could help connect some dots and take something off their plate.”

Some of the orphaned Angus calves now at Deerfield are from the Giles Ranch, Ashland, where three family members lost their homes and where they had significant cow losses. At Deerfield, as with the 4-Hers who have volunteered calf care, these baby calves will get the individual care and supervision they need while their owners deal with the recovery process.

“All aspects of this industry are coming together,” said Barnhardt. “It has been impressive. Even the workers at the calf ranch are inspired and proud to take care of these babies.”

As the immediate hustle to triage cattle and secure feed and care for survivors shifts to a longer term plan for coordinating the ongoing relief efforts, those close to the situation are encouraging people who want to help to consider monetary donations needed to cover trucking costs to get donated hay and materials to the affected ranches.

“We don’t want to turn down hay because some of our ranchers are just coming to grips with what their losses are and what their needs will be,” said Dr. Spare. The biggest issue with hay donations right now is the trucking bottleneck. In the short term, the tangibles have been necessary because it takes time for the various foundations to pool monetary donations and get resources to the ranchers.

“Farmers have called from as far away as Vermont and Wisconsin wanting to donate hay, and right now we have 800 bales available nearby in Waco, Texas if we could find the trucking,” said Spare.

Convoys of trucks — semiloads and pickups hauling flatbed trailers — brought an estimated 3000 round bales to the fire-affected regions over the weekend. With more hay available in central Texas and nearby Nebraska, the biggest need at the moment is more trucks or funds to help pay the fuel costs to transport the donated hay.

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(above) Convoys of trucks with hay headed to the wildfire-affected areas over the weekend. This one was organized by Mike and Conner Franetovich of southwest Oklahoma carrying 260 round bales to the ranchers in northwest Oklahoma. Photo by LaQuita Massee/Images By LQ

“When the hay trucks rolled in, it was like the cavalry arrived,” said Greg Gardiner of Gardiner Angus, Ashland. The well-known Angus breeder lost over 500 adult cows, mainly donor cows and spring calvers. They have over 1500 survivors but lost all of their hay — over 5000 round bales and their horse hay as well.

Greg’s brother Mark and his wife Eva lost their home, three of their horses and their dogs to the fire, despite their efforts to free them as the fire changed direction. He was behind them with the horse trailer when the black smoke descended making it impossible to see. He spent a half hour not knowing if they made it out.

“This thing is of biblical proportions, but it all seems small to me. My brother is alive,” said Gardiner. He described the landscape that burned from one end of the ranch to the other as an “apocalyptic wasteland” that will eventually come back stronger with enough rain.

“We’re praying for rain,” said Spare, describing dirty skies as the wind lifts the gray sand over charred soils.

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While prayers are most coveted, those who want to help are urged to contact organizers in the various affected states (see below) to see what the needs are as community leaders develop an ongoing relief plan.

“We are still contacting ranchers,” said Spare. “Some are saying they don’t need hay and feel embarrassed to take it, but the grass is all gone, and we are 60 days from good grass (in unburned areas) if it rains, so we are trying to help people understand as they make their plans, that they will need to have something to feed.”

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Make no mistake, this will be a long recovery for ranchers who have lost 50 to 90% of their herds and multiple years of income, as well as their stockpiled forage and grasslands.

“I told CNN that we as ranchers are stewards of the grasslands, and that the only way we have something to sell for an income is to sell grass through the cows that are eating it. We are working to take care of that and start all over again,” said Dr. Spare, who had significant losses among his own cow herd and was relieved when his son showed up in the driveway Tuesday morning, taking time away from vet school before spring exams to take care of the home front while he worked with other ranchers and their cattle.

As the reality sinks in…

“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion, from the people who come alongside with prayers and help,” said Spare. “Many don’t know how they’ll get through this, but we know we will get through it.”

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A world without cattle?

By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)

A world without cattle would be no world at all.

GL45-Earth Day(Bunting).jpgThe health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we celebrate Earth Day and as climate change discussions are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat are healthy for the planet and its people.

How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?

This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.

A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated that the greenhouse gas emissions from all of agriculture, worldwide, is just 10 to 12 percent. This includes not only livestock emissions, but also those from tractors, tillage, and production of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Hence, the UN Environmental Program disputed the UN FAO assertion to state the percentage of emissions from total agriculture, worldwide, is just 11%, and that cattle — as a portion of that total — are responsible for a tiny percentage of that 11%. While cattle contribute a little over 2% of the methane gas via their digestive system as ruminants (like deer, elk, bison, antelope, sheep and goats), they also groom grasslands that cover over one-quarter of the Earth’s total land base, and in so doing, they facilitate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to be tied up in renewable grazing plant material above and below the ground — just like forests do!

Think about this for a moment. The UN Environmental Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are in agreement that cattle and other livestock are not the problem the anti-meat and anti-animal-ag folks would have us believe. In fact, they are in many ways a major solution.

Think about the fact that man’s most necessary endeavor on planet Earth — the ongoing production of food — comes from the agriculture sector that in total accounts for just 11 percent of emissions!

Why, then, are major environmental groups and anti-animal groups so fixated on agriculture, particularly animal agriculture, when it comes to telling consumers to eat less meat and dairy as a beneficial way to help the planet? Why, then, has the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Council pushed that agenda in its preliminary report to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, that somehow the Earth will be better sustained if we eat less meat?

They ignore the sound science of the benefits livestock provide to the Earth. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say what Nicolette Niman has written in her widely acclaimed book “Defending Beef” that, “Cattle are necessary to the restoration and future health of the planet and its people.”

Niman is a trained biologist and former environmental attorney as well as the wife of rancher Bill Niman. She has gathered the data to overturn the myths that continue to persist falsely in the climate-change debate, and her book is loaded with indisputable facts and figures that debunk the “sacred cows” of the anti-animal agenda:

  • Eating meat causes world hunger. Not true. In fact, livestock are not only a nutrient dense food source replacing much more acreage of vegetation for the same nutritive value, livestock are deemed a “critical food” that provides “critical cash” for one billion of the planet’s poorest people — many of whom live where plant crops cannot be grown.
  • Eating meat causes deforestation. Not true. Forests, especially in Brazil, are cleared primarily for soybean production. Approximately 85 percent of the global soybean supply is crushed resulting in soybean oil used to make soy products for human consumption and soybean meal for animal consumption. A two-fer.
  • Eating meat, eggs and full-fat dairy products are the cause of cardiovascular disease. Not true. Researchers are re-looking at this failed advice that has shaped 40-years of American dietary policy. Its source was the 1953 Keys study, which actually showed no causative link! Meanwhile, excessive dietary carbohydrates have replaced fats in the diet, which turn to more dangerous forms of fat as we metabolize them than if we had consumed the natural saturated fats themselves. When healthy fats from nutrient-dense animal proteins are removed from the diet, additional sugars and carbs are added and these have led us down the road to increased body mass and diabetes.
  • Cattle overgrazing has ruined the western prairies. Not true. While improper grazing can have a localized detrimental effect, the larger issue is the pervasive negative effect that is largely coming from not grazing enough cattle. Higher stocking densities that are rotated actually improve the health of grasslands. Large herds provide the activity that loosens, aerates and disperses moisture along with the nutrients the cattle return to the soil — for more vigorous grass growth and soil retention — much as 30 million buffalo and antelope groomed the prairies two centuries ago. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has favored controlled burns over grazing and is taking away land rights our federal government once shared with ranchers. BLM reductions in allowable stocking densities have initiated a land-grabbing cycle of ranchers losing their land and livelihoods while the land is robbed of its benefits.

The anti-animal agenda continues — groundless, yet powerful. Rural economies, farm families, consumers and the Earth pay the price.

The majority of the lifecycle of supermarket beef and dairy products is rooted in grooming the grasslands and forage croplands that are vital to the Earth and its atmosphere. In addition, farmers and ranchers reduce tillage by planting winter cattle forage to hold soil in place, improve its organic matter and moisture-holding capacity, provide habitat for wildlife while providing temporary weed canopy between major crop plantings. Not only do cattle eat these harvested winter forages, they dine on crop residues and a host of other food byproducts that would otherwise go to waste.

Our planet needs livestock and the farmers and ranchers who care for them. They not only feed us — with more high quality dietary protein, calcium, zinc, and iron per serving than plant-based sources — they also feed the planet by providing necessary environmental benefits.

Enjoy your meat and dairy products without fear — certainly without guilt — and with gratefulness and appreciation for the gift of life given by the animals and because of the hard work and care they have been given by the men and women who work daily caring for the land and its animals. This Earth Day, we are grateful for the circle of life and the farmers and ranchers and their cattle, which sustain our existence, our economies, and our environment.

A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net.

Learn more about the latest research to measure emissions due to the dairy and livestock industries.

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Images by Sherry Bunting

 

 

 

 

Day 12: Goliath aftermath: ‘We appreciate the prayers… they are helping’

“This is an animal story and a human story, and the most heartwarming part in this cold winter storm is that while Mother Nature strikes, and is relentless, the human spirit and hard work of people coming together to help each other, prevails.” In this space, I had planned to write Day 12 about random acts of kindness through the holidays. Telling this story seemed most appropriate as the human spirit prevails this week in the aftermath of Winter Storm Goliath’s 48-hour pounding Dec. 26-28 in the heart of the West Texas and eastern New Mexico dairy and beef region, bringing devastating losses…

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Tio Ford sent this photo two days after the storm as the dig-out was underway at his Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico. You can see the packed snow drifts are up to the top of corral fences. Feedlanes and alleyways were a priority Monday to get animals fed and to the parlor (left) after most cows went 30+ hours without milking.

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, January 1, 2016

CLOVIS, N.M. — Last weekend’s record-breaking blizzard in the Southwest wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It was 60 degrees with no winter in sight just a few days before Storm Goliath pounded its way through the southern High Plains. Breaking records as a 100-year storm, the combination of sustained high winds driving fine powdery snow — and the sheer 48-hour duration of the storm — conspired to bring devastating losses to the West Texas and Eastern New Mexico dairy region with early estimates that 5% of the region’s 420,000 dairy cows may have perished and double that percentage in losses of youngstock.

“We heard a monster storm was coming, and we were prepared for a foot or two of snow. That can happen, but no one could envision this type of disaster with high winds coming straight from the North to pile it all up around every structure,” said Dr. Robert Hagevoort of the New Mexico State University dairy extension in a phone interview with Farmshine Wednesday.

The 5% — or 20,000 head — loss figure on milk cows is “a place to start,” he said. “We are trying to be conservative, but it will be hard to know the true count until the region is completely dug-out and losses are tallied. Our first concern is getting the survivors fed and back in their corrals and the milking parlor.”

All of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas south of the Panhandle was hard hit, and the storm center appeared to be directly over the region from Roswell to Clovis to Plainview. While Hagevoort has heard from producers having lost 100 to 200 cows, two producers contacted by Farmshine in Portales and Texico report losses of 40 to 50 head, including the losses of hay barns and untold numbers of young stock.

TioFord5950“We lost some cows, but we have heard of herds losing 5 to 10% of their milking cows,” noted Tio Ford of Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico in an email response Wednesday. “People who had beef cattle on wheat pasture were really hit hard, and we uncovered quite a few deads while trying to clear 10-foot-plus drifts off the roads.” Ford’s family has been rooted in New Mexico for over 100 years. His wife Chyanne’s grandfather left the cold winters of northwestern Pennsylvania for the dryland farming and drylot dairying of eastern New Mexico in the 1950s. Her parents Doug and Irene Handy have Do-Rene Dairy in Clovis.

“The wind came from the North and everything on our dairies in this region faces south. The commodity sheds, parlors, calf hutches – all face south in the winter, so the south side of every structure was snowed in,” said Hagevoort. “The blizzard hit with the snow blowing and everything settling on the south side of every structure, snowing-in the hutches with calves inside and forcing dairies to quit milking because of the 8, 10, 12-foot drifts piling up on the south side entrances to the parlors. They couldn’t see to bring cows in.”

As the alleyways and feed lanes filled with deep drifts of wind-driven packed snow, everything came to a standstill.

The visibility became so bad that for most of those 48 hours “no one could do anything. You couldn’t see two feet beyond the hood of the truck,” he added.

The poor visibility was so dangerous that producers became lost on their own dairies. The one to two feet of snow would not be a problem, if it fell straight down, but the winds created drifts up to 12 feet high and packed so tight that cattle simply walked over corral fences and kept walking, becoming lost and disoriented. Some were buried by the driven snow.

Winter Storm Goliath began Saturday and continued “relentless” through Monday morning with sustained winds over 50 mph and gusts above 82 mph in the first 24 hours. On the second day, sustained winds of 40 mph were recorded with gusts above 65 mph.

“One to two feet of snow, we can handle that if it falls normally like wet snow, but not this fine powdery dust snow driven by high winds,” Hagevoort explained. “We still have four-foot drifts around houses in town that is packed in there heavy and the much higher drifts in the countryside require heavy equipment to dig out.”

A state of emergency was declared for both West Texas and Eastern New Mexico as major roads were closed for two to three days. Even two days after the storm, some country roads were still impenetrable with the kind of snow that blades on trucks can’t move.

“When the winds died down Monday morning and the sun came out, people could see what was going on,” said Hagevoort. “Cattle have walked everywhere, and people are still out finding them. They are digging the snow out of corrals to get surviving cattle back in and fed. There are these massive amounts of snow to move, and dairies have 3 to 4 loaders going 24/7 — digging out calves and moving cows back in and feeding and at some point milking again. The sheer manpower required is massive.”

NewMexico-Goliath01Milk haulers were also among the stranded, and Matthew Cook, a milk hauler from Kansas confirms that he was one in the line of trucks stranded for three days at Southwest Cheese near Clovis. “The roads were all closed, and the wind and blowing snow was out-of-control, so I pretty much hung out in my truck. Most of us knew it was coming so we had food and drink and plenty of fuel,” he said in an email Wednesday, confirming the plant was open again.

Reports indicate not much milk has been processed early this week and in addition to the long stretch of 36 to 40 hours when dairies were unable to milk, some milk in the region also needed to be dumped as trucks could not get out with it.

Hagevoort observed that folks are starting to get back to something remotely resembling normal by Wednesday and the focus on day-old calves and milk cows was shifting to the older young stock and dry cow pens.

In the early going, the Department of Transportation and other state agencies put a call out for large equipment as they are equipped for the occasional four to six-inch snows of the region.

“The focus was on people rescue missions on Monday. Dairymen were digging out dairies and their roads back to the main road in the hope at some point the main roads would be clear and they could meet somewhere,” said Hagevoort.

Dairymen and feedlot operators used their large loaders to help uncover cars with stranded motorists stuck 20 hours or more under the snow.

“It was a really rough weekend. They said we got between 8 and 12 inches of snow here, but I’m not sure how they came up with those amounts because the wind was gusting up to 82 mph,” Ford noted. His 3000-cow New Mexico dairy sits right on the Texas border. “We were stuck at the dairy with a skeleton crew for 36 hours before we were able to get replacements. Every dairy, feedlot, or farmer with a big tractor or loader had them out trying to clear the roads.”

Hagevoort4838 (1)Hagevoort noted that, “This is an animal story and a human story, and the most heartwarming part in this cold storm is that while Mother Nature strikes and is relentless, the human spirit and hard work of people coming together to help each other, prevails.”

Dairymen are not usually an emotional lot. They focus on the business and the work and the challenges, but the emotion is raw at the loss of these animals and the sheer devastation. Amid the heartbreak of the losses, producers have no time to dwell as they put one foot in front of the other to dig out and tend cattle and keep their employees safe as everyone works together to find the lost, feed and tend to the survivors, and get the dairies operating again.

While the USDA FSA livestock indemnity program exists as part of the last Farm Bill, it is capped, so Hagevoort says it will be difficult if the large number of losses exceeds the financial compensation available through the indemnity programs.

While size doesn’t matter in terms of the impact of Goliath’s relentless strike, larger dairies may be affected by the caps in terms of receiving compensation proportional to their levels of loss. Officials urge dairy producers to document everything to sort out the help that may be available in the future.

NewMexico-Goliath03 (1)Dairies will continue to work around the huge drifts that won’t melt any time soon as the first priority is locating and securing their animals as they dig out alleys, feed lanes and corrals.

“We can look ahead at how to mobilize resources more rapidly in the future, or how to be safer in situations like this, but the truth is… no two storms are ever the same. This one packed an uncommon combination and longtime residents say they’ve never seen anything like it,” said Hagevoort.

With temps in the teens and 20s and night time wind chills down to -18 at night during the height of the storm, there will be sick cattle and frostbite issues to deal with going forward.

Producers also reported not being able to milk cows for 36 to 40 hours, and that will also impact health and production going forward.

“The cattle have seen a lot of stress,” said Hagevoort. “But we will work through it. It’s a tough thing in times like this where the milk price is below where it needs to be.”

But just like in Dallas, where Goliath spawned tornados and floods, the remarkable human spirit prevails.

“People come together,” said Hagevoort. “On our dairies here, the employees stayed working two to three shifts and owners worked untold hours with them and cooked meals and washed clothes to keep them going. The combination of family farms with employees and owners working together to make it through a challenge like this… That’s the real story.”

NewMexico-Goliath04While the final tally is likely to show young stock losses to be twice that of the estimated 20,000 milk cows lost across the region, Hagevoort noted remarkable stories coming in about calves being found under 6-feet of snow — alive in their hutches.

“This is an incredible story of farmers taking care of the animals they are entrusted with, despite the fury Mother Nature sometimes unexpectedly unleashes,” read a post on Wednesday at the New Mexico State University Dairy Extension’s Facebook page.

On Monday, Tara Vander Dussen of Rajen Dairy with three facilities totaling 10,000 cows in the region wrote a post on her public Facebook page telling consumers and animal activists: “I wish you understood how much we care about our cows. I wish you knew that my husband, brothers, dads, uncles, family and friends got up this morning at 2:00 a.m. to go to the dairy in a blizzard with 65 mph winds, -16°F wind chill, lightning and 6-feet snow drifts. They had to leave their families and children (some families had no power) so our cows could have food and water. They went out to take care of our cows the best that they can. And they did this after working a full day on Christmas Eve and Christmas! They do all of this because they care about the health and safety of every animal on our family farm! I wish you knew.”

Two days and nearly 20,000 shares later, Vander Dussen started a New Mexico Milkmaid blog to communicate further on this topic.

All told, Goliath’s effect stretched across much of the U.S midsection. The massive storm included heavy rain, floods and tornados on the severe side and blizzards with snow and driving winds on the wintry side with ice storms in the middle around the center of Oklahoma.

The rains have put southwest totals ranging 50 to 150% above normal. Cold and muddy conditions are also impacting the beef and dairy operators from the Southern Plains through the Midwest Corn Belt.

BenSmith4577 (1)“It was a storm I can’t put into words or ever experienced,” said Ben Smith of Arrowhead Dairy, Clovis, N.M.” We have a lot of snow digging out still to do and a lot of cleanup to do as well. We have been milking and feeding again for two days, so that part is good.” When asked what people can do to help, producers say “the prayers are appreciated… and they are helping. -30-

 

FarmshineSee the original story in the January 1, 2016 edition of Farmshine 

 

CAPTIONS

Winter has been nonexistent so far in the Northeast where earthworms litter the ground, spring peepers can be heard, and migratory birds are confused about which way to fly. But for producers in the West Texas and eastern New Mexico dairy region, winter came abruptly last weekend with a vengeance never seen there before and bringing a combination of factors that would be difficult for dairy farms even in regions more accustomed and prepared for big snows. Storm Goliath pounded the area with one to two feet of fine powdery snow driven by 50 to 80 mph winds coming straight from the north and piling hard-packed drifts up to 12-feet high against every structure from calf hutches to commodity sheds to milking parlors. Estimates are that 5% of the region’s milk cows have perished — buried by drifting snow and disoriented as they wandered over the tight-packed snow drifts along corral fence lines. Dry lots work very well in this more desert-like region of the country. Manure dries up and cows stay clean. But this uncommon combination from Storm Goliath brought dairies to a standstill for 48 hours in which the visibility was so poor, producers themselves were getting lost on their own dairies. By Wednesday they were still digging out, finding and tending survivors and just beginning to assess their losses. Photo courtesy of Tio Ford, Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico.

A line of milk trucks was stranded for three days at Southwest Cheese, Clovis, New Mexico, and throughout the region dairies dumped to days of milk with many unable to milk cows for 36 to 40 hours. Photo courtesy of milk hauler Matthew Cook.

In New Mexico and West Texas, the humidity is very low and dry lots are the way dairy cattle are kept. Loaders are needed to dig through the 8 to 12-feet tightly packed drifts that have piled up in corrals, feed lanes and against the south side of every structure from fences to parlors to calf hutches. Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Extension.

Finding and feeding young calves and milk cows was priority one when the storm ended Monday morning. Calves had been buried in hutches under 6-feet of snow pack, but stories are coming in that a surprising number are being found alive. Officials estimate a 10% loss of young stock throughout the eastern New Mexico and West Texas dairy region from Storm Goliath. Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Extension.

Dairy Carrie also blogged on this with stories from four dairies here

NUTRITION POLITICS: Kids and cattle caught in the crossfire

GROWING THE LAND: Nutrition Politics: Let them eat cake!

April 2, 2015 Hudson Valley Register-Star

Seems like an April Fools’ joke, but I am sorry to say it is not. Like the ill-fated Marie
Antoinette in her final words, the federal government lacks understanding for the nutritional realities of the masses as it turns the simple act of providing a nutritious lunch to schoolchildren into an exercise in frustration.

Kids buy Twinkies instead of lunch. Or they pack. Some go hungry.

For 40-plus years, the concept of a “heart healthy diet” has been unchallenged even though it was implemented based on a set of hypotheses created from epidemiological studies on middle-aged men. No study of impacts on women and children. No clinical trials on anyone.

As noted in this column on Jan. 27, schoolchildren have been eating the equivalent of a heart patient’s diet since the mid-1990s as the fat percentage was tightly controlled even though the sugar was not. Then, the government cut the calorie totals realizing the fat that was removed was replaced with sugar to meet the calorie requirements of a growing child.

What have we to show for it? Rising levels of obesity and diabetes, particularly among children.

It is about to get worse, but there is still time to be heard. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — charged with making recommendations every five years — has now
stepped beyond its nutritional realm to consider the “environmental impacts” of foods.

From the frying pan into the fire we go.1538850_10203867018139998_98482634260761802_n

In this column on Feb. 8, we looked at the National School Lunch Program and the Dietary Guidelines just as the five-year Advisory Committee submitted its Advisory Report to the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Committee states that “The purpose of the Advisory Report is to inform the federal government of current scientific evidence on topics related to diet, nutrition and health. It provides the federal government with a foundation for developing national nutrition policy.”

However, the Advisory Report constructs and reinforces further reductions in its guidelines on the consumption of red meat and whole dairy fat such as butter and whole milk by using these so-called “sustainability factors.”

This area of science is even more subjective than the past four decades of nutrition science have proved to be. Just when the truth is coming out that decades of nutrition policies are based on hypotheses steering unwary consumers away from healthy fat and into the arms of carbohydrates, suddenly “sustainability” emerges to perpetuate the lie.

New York Times bestseller “The Big Fat Surprise” delves deeply into this subject. Author Nina Teicholz, an investigative food reporter, compiled nine years of research covering thousands of studies and many interviews with nutrition scientists to discover this April Fools’ joke has already had too-long a run and with unintended consequences for Americans.

As noted by Anne Burkholder, a rancher and blogger (Feedyard Foodie), who wrotGL 1847 (1)
e after reading Teicholz’s book: “The diet-heart hypothesis (coined by a biologist Ancel Keys in the early 1960s) proclaimed that a low fat and high carbohydrate diet provided the basis for good health. Although not proved through clinical trials, the hypothesis gained support from the federal government and provided the basis for mainstream dietary advice during the ensuing decades.

“…The culture of the American diet has shifted dramatically. According to USDA, the consumption of grains (41 percent), vegetables (23 percent) and fruits (13 percent) rose significantly from 1970-2005 while red meat (-22 percent), milk (-33 percent) and eggs (-17 percent) fell dramatically. Overall carbohydrate intake for Americans rose with low fat starches and vegetable oil took the place of animal protein and fat in the diet. Animal protein lovers shifted from beef to chicken and many traded whole fat dairy for skim milk and margarine thereby forsaking nutrition density for lower saturated fat options,” Burkholder writes. “All of this occurred during a time in the United States when obesity rates more than doubled (15-32 percent), the prevalence of heart failure, cancer and stroke all increased and the rate of diabetes increased from less than 1 percent to 11 percent.”

Here are just some of the conclusions Teicholz highlights in “The Big Fat Surprise” after nearly a decade of research:

1. Causal associations between red meat consumption and heart disease are minimal.

2. The HDL (good cholesterol) is increased by the saturated fat found in animal protein.

3. Animal fat is nutrient dense, packing protein, energy and essential vitamins and minerals — plus helping the vitamins and minerals of other foods eaten together to be better absorbed by the human body.

4. There are no health studies to learn the effect on health of liquid vegetable oils. We do know that the process of solidifying vegetable oils creates the very unhealthy transfats. Butter and red meat do not contain these transfats.

5. Insulin levels are elevated by constant carb consumption, not by animal fat and protein. Furthermore, as insulin levels are raised, the body is less able to digest its own stored fat created by — you guessed it — carbs!

Our children have been and will apparently continue to be test subjects for nutrition GL kids-cowspolitics. The simple act of providing a nutritious school lunch will become even more
complicated if the Advisory Report is accepted and used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture secretaries in the food programs they administer.

Published in the Federal Register (Vol. 80, No. 35) on Feb. 23, the public comment period was recently extended to May 8. After that, the secretaries will jointly release the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015.

A quick perusal of comments already logged shows that two parts of the Report are garnering attention:

1. There is an overwhelming support for the recommendation to reduce the amount of added sugar in the diet. My only question is: What took them so long?

2. There is an overwhelming lack of support for the recommendation to reduce even more the role of saturated fats — red meat and whole dairy fat — in the diet.

Some children may forego the school lunch and pack a nutritious replacement. But what about the child in poverty? Their options are limited to taking what the federal government dishes out, literally.

To comment on proposed Dietary Guidelines by May 8, visit www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2015/comments/. It is easy to do electronically.


GROWING THE LAND: Kids and cattle caught in the crossfire 

Feb. 8, 2015  Hudson Valley Register Star

Kids and cattle are caught in the crossfire of nutrition politics, and it may get worse. GL 0263Two weeks ago we talked about the changes over the years in the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans and their direct influence on the National School Lunch Prog
ram. This week we look at how the simple act of providing a nutritious school lunch could become even more complicated.

What I have gleaned from reader comments is a high level of frustration about the current status of the National School Lunch Program limiting the caloric intake and food choices of growing children. Now, the next twist in the nutrition-noodle may not even be nutrition-based.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the deciding agency for new “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” expected to be released soon. The HHS Secretaries are deliberating the recent report from their Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which held meetings for months.

When the new Guidelines are officially published in the Federal Register, a second round of comments will open. I’ll let you know when and how to comment when the time comes.

For now, let’s look at a few concerns with the committee’s report.

1) It is worth noting that back when we had a Food Pyramid, physical exercise was Boilermaker6929visually highlighted, where today it is notably absent from the MyPlate diagram.

2) More troubling this time around, is the fact that the committee is not just focusing on new information about healthful eating, they have incorporated so-called “sustainability”
factors or environmental impacts of various foods — namely lean meats. This opens a whole can of worms that — quite frankly — have nothing to do with nutrition!

3) Furthermore, some of the science the committee used to come up with thewWill-Feed3983 idea of eliminating lean meat from its so-called “healthy eating pattern” is quite controversial and involves a United Nations study that has since been refuted.That study had suggested meat production contributes more to climate change than transportation.

Scientists have come forward in droves with counter-studies showing the greatly reduced carbon footprint of agriculture, particularly animal agriculture. The whole lifecycle of beef and dairy cattle needs to be considered when formulating environmental impacts.

While the dietary gurus in Washington debate the merits of meat and whole-fat milk, let’s look at this term “sustainability” and what dairy and livestock producers actually care about and accomplish for their land, animals — and us!

Regarding potential replacement of a “healthy eating pattern” in favor of a “sustainable eating pattern,” there are several concerns.

1. If red meat and full-fat dairy are not considered a component in a healthy eating pattern, students will increasingly see this nutrient dense protein source removed from their diets and replaced with foods that are less nutrient dense.

2. Since these guidelines affect the most nutritionally at-risk children through their effects on the school lunch program, WIC and food stamps, the impact of the dietary guidelines would fall mostly on those children who are already on the hunger-side of the nutrition equation.

3. How can the committee recommend a “sustainable dietary pattern” when mothers, doctors, scientists, and all manner of experts can’t even agree on what “sustainable” actually means? Let’s stick to nutrition. Defining that is a tall-enough order.

Scientist, cancer survivor and new mom Dr. Jude Capper covers this topic best. She points out that, “With the world population officially hitting 7 billion people earlier this year and projected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, farmers and ranchers must continue to find ways to sustainably feed a growing world population using fewer natural resources.”

She notes the many improvements to the way cattle are raised and fed in the United States between 1977 and 2007 that have yielded 13 percent more total beef from 30 percent fewer animals. More beef from fewer animals maximizes resources like land and water while providing essential nutrients for the human diet. U.S. cattlemen raise 20 percent of the world’s beef with 7 percent of the world’s cattle.

Capper’s research in the Journal of Animal Science shows that beef’s environmental footprint is shrinking. Each pound of beef raised in 2007 (compared to 1977) used 19 percent less feed; 33 percent less land; 12 percent less water; and 9 percent less fossil fuel energy. Significant gains have been made in the seven years since the data was collected for this report.IMG_2657

What is discouraging to cattle producers — be they beef or dairy — is the lack of understanding for how cattle are raised and fed. They utilize feedstuffs we humans cannot digest and turn that into meat and milk, which are nutrient-dense sources of proteins, minerals and vitamins.

Some of their lifecycle is spent on grass or eating a mostly grass / hay diet and some of their lifecycle is spent eating a more concentrated diet at certain stages. Feedlot beef wky3327

cattle start out as calves on grass. Even in the feedlot, today’s rations — especially in the east and near food processing centers — utilize bakery waste, over cooked potato chips, wilted produce and the like that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Incorporated into cattle diets along with traditional feedstuffs, these foods provide protein and energy for the animals without sole reliance on corn. In addition, when corn is fed, the whole plant is used.

Farmers are thrifty. They don’t like to waste a thing. They understand the balance of working with nature because it is not just the vocation, but also the very life they have chosen working with their animals and the land.

I can’t think of any other reason why someone would work this hard and put their entire livelihood and all of their capital at risk to the swings of the marketplace other than they are passionate about producing food and using science and ingenuity to work with

Mother Nature in preserving a sustainable balance for all of God’s creatures — the 2-legged and the 4-legged.

Send me your questions and look for part three when the official new guidelines are posted in the Federal Register for public comment. Email agrite@ptd.net.10256404_10204082794934283_4627952695489572277_o


GROWING THE LAND: How did school lunch get so complicated        

Jan. 27, 2015 Hudson Valley Register-Star

Are you satisfied with your school lunches? Do your children eat them? Do they come home so hungry they binge out of the snack drawer?

The National School Lunch Program and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are lightning rods for the latest nutritional ideas — none of which seem to be working particularly well because we’ve gotten so far from the basics, and yet both childhood hunger and childhood obesity are on the rise.

Now it seems there will be another twist in the nutrition-noodle. Recent food studies and “The Big Fat Surprise,” a best seller by Nina Teicholz, reveals the truth about the healthfulness of natural fats in whole milk, butter, beef, ice cream, etc. Teicholz was profiled on “Live! with Kelly and Michael” last week, where she described the “nasty nutrition politics” that continually shape these programs.

In response to these animal-protein-friendly nutritional revelations, the environmental webfeed9297nail-biters (under the influence of refuted studies) are “concerned” about what they see as the effect of dairy and beef production on climate change. According to news reports last week, these groups would like the government to take their version of the facts and tweak new-again the nutrition guidelines. This means yet another lunchroom brawl will soon be coming to a school cafeteria near you where the already burdensome and counterproductive rules for lunch menu planning have lunch ladies and foodservice directors — not to mention kids and parents — tearing their hair out.

How did we let serving a decent healthy meal to schoolchildren become so complicated? Why don’t schools take their cafeterias back? One reason is the federal government ties its financial support for literacy programs (extra teachers and tutors) in schools to the number of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program as monitored by — you guessed it — the federal government. Oh what a complex web we weave when all we set out to do is healthfully eat!

The government’s interest in the school lunch program got its first foothold during World War II when more women joined the workforce as part of the war effort. The emphasis at that time was to provide a hot meal with plenty of protein, calories for energy and the healthy fat necessary for brain development and satiety — a fancy word for no hunger pains during the end of the day math class!

My generation grew up with the “eat all things in moderation” mantra. Lunches were a bit repetitive, but they were good, honest meals and we ate them. We learned about the four food groups, and we ran and played and worked outside ‘til dusk.

My children’s generation grew up in the “food pyramid” days, spelling out the servings deal differently. Then, in the 1990s, the school lunch program went through a major metamorphosis that paralleled the “low fat” offerings in nearly every product category at the supermarket. What the 90s gave us was less fat and more carbs, and a lot of guilt. I would say those three things are actually ingredients for obesity.

By the late 1990s, the government came out with the nutrient standards for menu planning, and school districts across the country bought the software and began to submit their menus for approval. I was editor of a farm publication at the time and served as an elected director on a local school board. I interviewed not only our own district’s foodservice director but others as well, and I visited one of the schools that had piloted the program for USDA.

“Schoolchildren were being relegated to the equivalent of a heart patient’s diet,” explained the foodservice director who was piloting the program in 1997. The calorie thresholds were unchanged, but the government began regulating the percentage of those calories that could come from fat. There were no regulations yet for sugar or carbohydrates. And yes, as always, the goal was to get kids to eat more veggies and fruits and fiber. We might take a lesson from France in that department. They require lunches to be made from fresh ingredients, but they aren’t afraid to deep-fry some broccoli or soak a healthy vegetable dish in yummy cheese — real, of course.

The new fat rules forced foodservice folks to put imitation cheese product on their once delicious pizza. Ground turkey replaced beef in spaghetti and tacos. Rolls were served without butter. All milk was reduced to nonfat or 1 percent so the amount of chocolate milk consumed increased. (Whole milk is much more flavorful than nonfat, and it is just 3.25 to 3.5 percent fat!

As fat was reduced, so were calories and flavor. To get back up to the number of calories required, “we just served a bigger brownie, for example,” that foodservice director recounted. Of course, they used applesauce to replace the shortening in making such desserts. But still, no requirement on sugar and carbs.

“Two elements give food flavor: fats and sugars. When you pull one out, chances are the other is added,” the wise foodservice director observed. Whether natural or added, sugars and fats provide flavor, but what most people don’t think about is: The fat in real foods — such as beef and butter and cheese — is accompanied by a nutrient dense protein source that naturally supplies vitamins and minerals and helps kids feel satiated, not hungry or hyper, so they can concentrate and learn. Healthy fats are known to be good for brain development.

Fast forward to the decade of the 2010’s. More tinkering! The food pyramid became the plate showing portions of different food types, and we are now in a time when school menus are regulated in the number of calories that can be served using arbitrary, across the board calculations.

Caught in the crossfire are kids and cattle. We’ll continue this topic in the next edition of “Growing the Land,” so send me your questions about nutrition standards, new information on healthy fats, school lunch programs, and the real-deal on the carbon footprint and environmental contributions of today’s dairy and beef cattle. Email agrite@ptd.net.

No ‘snow days’ on the farm

cows6781By Sherry Bunting, columnist, Register-Star, Feb. 21, 2015

There are no ‘snow days’ on the farm. “When it is this cold, the simple every day protocols become enduring days of work,” notes Cody Williams of Wil-Roc Dairy, Kinderhook, where some of the 1500 Holstein dairy cows are housed in new and modern barns, while others are exposed a bit more to the elements in older facilities.

“We change our teat dip when it’s this cold, for extra moisturizing to the skin,” Cody explains. “We also adjust the cow diets to keep our cows in a positive energy balance as they burn more energy to maintain themselves during weather extremes.”

Operating a dairy or livestock farm in the extreme cold is not for the faint of heart. Veteran beef producer Phil Trowbridge of Ghent observes: “We know how to take care of ourselves. We dress in layers and give each other breaks.”

Frozen pipes, pumps, waterers, and manure — as well as difficulty in starting equipment — are commonly reported concerns when the snow piles up and the temperatures plummet, and, of course, concerns about keeping rooftops clear of a too-heavy burden.

Last week the mercury hit -14 at Trowbridge Angus Farm, where it is calving season January through March. The family, and their over 300 beef breeding cows, are navigating two to three feet of snow cover.

Twenty miles away near Schodack Landing, temps of -11 went virtually unnoticed by the over 700 Jersey dairy cows at Dutch Hollow Farm. They are tucked away in their barns with retractable sidewall curtains that stay open more often than not for natural light and ventilation but remain closed when the wind chills get this low.

Cattle are cold weather animals, but they do not like wind or drafts. The difference between beef and dairy breeds is the way their centuries-old partnership with man has adapted through specialized breeding and care.

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Beef breed cattle are kept outside pretty much year-round, coming into the barn only at calving time. Dairy cattle, on the other hand, are typically housed in barns year-round. While beef breed cattle spend more time foraging for their food and seeking the natural and provided windbreaks to lay down, dairy cattle in freestall barns will amble short distances inside from feedbunks and waterers to the deep-bedded stalls that are groomed for them two or three times a day while they are milking.

Dairy cows are accustomed to constant human handling from the time they are calves. 10986660_10206244497857081_5937924373439440151_oThey have a different temperament about the whole calving deal.They aren’t worried about predators and trust the humans they work beside day in and day out to care for them and their offspring.

Beef breeding cows, on the other hand, are more self-sufficient and protective of their young. They raise their offspring for the more hands-off life as a non-milking breeding animal or to spend 80% of their life foraging on pasture with the last 20% of their life in the beef fattening phase.

One thing in common: Both beef and dairy producers focus on the newborns immediately at birth to make sure each calf gets a warm start and enough colostrum for the passive transfer of immunity from its dam.

“When we get real cold weather like we have seen this winter, we spend more time in the calving barn at night. We pretty much sleep here with them when it’s this cold,” says beef producer Phil Trowbridge, who has had 50 calves born since January 1. “The main thing is to get those calves dried off and warmed up as soon as they are born, and to make sure they get enough colostrum. In two or three days, they’re old enough and strong enough to go outside.”

Not only are they prepared for cold weather, they frolic in it. “I took a video with my cell phone of the calves the other day when it was minus-11. We were putting out bedding for the cows, and saw those calves were feeling so good, they were just running through the snow,” Phil relates. “I like seeing that.”

calves

Stockpiled pasture grasses make a nice winter forage as cattle can push off a few inches or a foot of snow to graze it, and they do well getting around in the snow outdoors. But with over two feet of snow cover this winter, the Trowbridge family cuts trails to help the cattle conserve energy. They also put down extra bedding, more often, in the areas with windbreaks and feed more outdoor hay and supplement.

Meanwhile, on a dairy farm, the cows calve year-round. Calving pens are watched through video monitoring or by walk-throughs. The immediate newborn calf care continues

Tricia Adams pictures one of the heated boxes for newborn calves at Hoffman Farms

Tricia Adams pictures one of the heated boxes for newborn calves at Hoffman Farms

through the first few weeks of life in the calf nursery or individual hutches. Newborns often get time in a heat box or wear calf jackets and sometimes earmuffs when it’s this cold, and they are fed more often for increased energy to maintain their temperature and to grow.

“Taking care of the animals is pretty much routine. The feeding is very consistent day to day, and the freestalls are bedded twice a week,” says Paul Chittenden of Dutch Hollow
Farm. “Clean and dry and plenty to eat are what we focus on — regardless of the weather. Cows always have dry sawdust with extra sawdust stored in the front of the stalls. This allows for plenty of dry bedding to stir around each time we groom the stalls when the cows go to the parlor for milking.”

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Water is critical for drinking and cleaning, so lines are buried underground and drinking tubs are equipped with heaters.

“Cold weather management is really not too complicated,” explains bovine veterinarian and dairy farmer Dr. Tom Troxel. “Cows need to have plenty of feed and water, be out of the wind, and have a dry place to lay down. If they have these things, they can survive an awful lot.”

“No matter the weather, we have our jobs to do here,” notes Cody of Wil-Roc Dairy. “That is itself the reward. Getting our everyday tasks done and looking to see how the stressors of weather and other events can affect our system… That is how we keep improving how we do things all year long.”

Sherry Bunting is a member of North American Agriculture Journalists and has been covering beef and dairy production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows and graded beef cattle for market reports. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net

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Dairy and beef cattle are adapted differently, but they all depend on their people for great care during the weather extremes we have seen here this winter. Farming is not for the faint of heart. Everyday tasks take longer to complete but it sure is rewarding to see cows thrive and calves frolic after a good start – regardless of the weather! Photos by Sherry Bunting, Beth Chittenden and Evelyn Troutman.